The unicorn whale narwhal is a fascinating Sea creature, that unicorn fans are especially fond of. Obviously, the reason for this can be found in the large “unicorn horn” narwhals possess. But what is a narwhal? Today, we are going to learn 23 epic narwhal facts.
We are going to leave the enchanted forest for a while, and take an epic trip to the freezing Arctic waters. That is where we will find the unicorn whale.
1. What Is a Narwhal?
Narwhal (Monodon monoceros) is a medium-sized toothed-whale. A common nickname for narwhal is “unicorn of the sea” or “unicorn whale”. The nickname comes from the narwhal’s most well-known trait; its long tusk.
Narwhal and beluga whale, its closest relative, are the only two existing species of the Monodontidae family. There are known cases of narwhals and beluga whales mix-breeding.
2. How Big Are Narwhals?
In the whale world, even “medium-sized” means gigantic. Narwhals can weigh up to 4,200 lbs (almost 2,000 kg). The males are larger than the females. The males’ average total body length (without the tusk) is 13.5 ft (4.1 meters). The females’ average body length is 11.5 ft (3.5 meters).
3. What Is a Narwhal Tusk?
The narwhal tusk is often confused with a horn. After all, narwhal is the “unicorn of the sea”, and unicorns have horns, right?
However, the narwhal tusk is not a horn. The narwhal tusk is an over-sized canine tooth. It can grow up to 10 feet (3 meters) long. The tusk keeps growing throughout a narwhal’s life.
The narwhal tusk is hollow, and it weighs around 22 lbs (10 kg).
While the narwhal tusk is not a horn, it is amazing how much it resembles a unicorn horn!
Just like a unicorn horn, the narwhal tusk is spiraled. The narwhal tusk grows in a counterclockwise spiral. Narwhal is the only animal in the World with a spiraled tooth.
I think the rarity of the spiraled tooth makes the narwhal’s nickname even more justified; this whale truly is a unicorn. Not just amongst the sea creatures, but amongst all animals.
Narwhals have sensory capability in their tusks. The narwhal tusk has up to 10 million nerve endings inside.
4. How Many Tusks Do Narwhals Have?
What, can narwhals have more than one tusk? Everyone knows unicorns have only one horn, and narwhal is the unicorn of the sea!
The answer is yes, narwhals can have two tusks, but it is rare. Normally, only the upper left canine tooth of a narwhal grows into a tusk. In rare cases, the upper right canine tooth becomes a second tusk. Only 1 in 500 narwhal males are “double-tuskers”.
Most male narwhals have a single tusk, and most female narwhals do not have a tusk at all. Only 15% of female narwhals grow a tusk. Normally, the female narwhal tusk is smaller and less spiraled than the male tusk.
Since a minority of female narwhals have even one tusk, it must be extremely rare for a female narwhal to have two tusks. There is only one known case of a female narwhal with two tusks, and this was collected in 1684! This rare skull can be found in the Zoological Museum of Hamburg.
5. Why Do Narwhals Have Tusks?
Above all, the narwhal tusk is a sexual trait. The males determine their social rank and compete of females using their tusks.
There is video footage of narwhals using their tusks to stun fish before catching and eating them. However, the narwhal tusk is mostly a male trait, so it can not be essential for the narwhals’ survival. The tusk is not necessary for catching fish, otherwise, how would the female narwhals feed?
Narwhals, like all whales, are extremely intelligent, so they do find ways to make life easier using their tusks. The video footage proves this.
The tusk is highly sensitive, and narwhals use it as a sensory organ too. According to researchers, male narwhals use their tusks to find food or mates. Their tusks also help them notice changes in their environment.
Even humans have sensitive teeth. It makes sense the narwhal tusk, a gigantic tooth, is a sensitive organ.
Sometimes narwhal males, or bulls, rub their tusks against each other. This behavior, “tusking”, has been thought to be a way to determine their social hierarchy. However, narwhals might also communicate with each other this way.
6. Where Do Narwhals Live?
Narwhals live their whole lives in the freezing Arctic Ocean. They are found in the Arctic waters of Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Russia and Norway.
Narwhals, beluga whales and bowheads are the only whale species that spend their whole lives in the Arctic. Most whale species migrate to warmer areas for the winters.
Narwhals migrate too, but only to other Arctic areas. In the summer, narwhals live closer to coasts. In the winter, they seek deeper waters with a thick ice cover.
Most narwhals spend their winters in the Baffin Bay and Davis Strait between Canada and Greenland, under dense sea ice. They go up to the surface to breathe through narrow leads in the ice.
7. What Do Narwhals Eat?
Narwhals are carnivores. Their diet mostly consists of Arctic and Polar cod, Greenland halibut, cuttlefish, shrimp and squid.
Narwhals do not have much of teeth in their mouth; only the gigantic tusk and the second canine tooth, which does not normally grow through their lip. So, narwhals would have a difficult time biting their food.
Instead, they swim towards the prey, and suck it in their mouth. Then, they just swallow the fish whole.
8. Are Narwhals Social Animals?
Narwhals usually live in groups of 5 to 15 individuals. The groups can consist of only females and their offspring, only juvenile and adult males, or they can be mixed groups.
In the summer, several narwhal groups form large aggregations. As a result, as many as 500 to 1,000 narwhals can be seen swimming together.
Like all whales, narwhals are highly intelligent, social animals. They are also very playful!
9. How Do Narwhals Communicate?
Narwhals communicate with high-pitched clicks, whistles, squeaks and bangs. These sounds are similar to those created by other toothed whales, including dolphins.
Narwhals also use sound for echolocation to navigate and find food.
Like many whales, narwhals are a sound-centered species. They need to communicate with sounds in order to survive.
10. How Long Do Narwhals Live?
Narwhals can live up to 50 years, but their average life span is 30-40 years.
11. What Color Are Narwhals?
Narwhal babies, or calves, are born with a dark blue-gray color. When they grow up, they develop the grayish color with spots characteristic to narwhals.
Adult narwhals are darker on the top and lighter on the bottom. As narwhals grow old, they become whiter. Old males can be almost completely white.
12. What Does the Word ´Narwhal´ Mean?
The word ‘narwhal’ comes from the old Norse word nár, which means “corpse”. The name refers to narwhals’ grayish color. For the ancient Norwegian people, this color reminded them of how a drowned sailor looked like.
The narwhals also have a habit to “log” in the summer. This means they float still at the sea surface, as if they were dead.
The scientific name of the narwhal, Monodon monoceros, is Greek. It means “one tooth, one horn”. By the way, the Greek name of the unicorn is Monoceros, “one horn”. That is exactly the same word that appears in the name ´narwhal´.
13. How Deep Do Narwhals Dive?
Narwhals are amongst the deepest divers of all whale species. In the winter, narwhals can dive almost 5,000 ft (1,500 meters) deep.
These deep dives can last 25 minutes. Since narwhals are marine mammals, they have lungs and they breathe air. So, narwhals hold their breath for the whole 25-minute dive.
14. How Do Narwhals Breed?
Female narwhals become sexually mature at 6 to 8 years old, male narwhals at 8 to 10 years old.
Narwhals mate in April or May, and the calf is born in the summer of the following year. The pregnancy lasts for 14 months.
Like most whales, narwhals only give birth to one baby at a time. Newborn narwhal babies are approximately 5 ft (1.5 m) long and weigh around 180 lbs (80 kg).
Narwhals are mammals, so they nurse their calves. The calf feeds on its mother’s milk for 20 months. The narwhal calf always stays within two body lengths from its mother, learning the skills needed to survive on its own.
Narwhal babies spend nearly two years with their mother, until they are ready to start an independent life.
It is estimated that female narwhals give birth to a new calf once every 3 years.
15. Do People Hunt Narwhals?
Approximately 1,000 narwhals are hunted each year. Not just for their tusks, though; the skin and carved vertebrae are sold as well. The meat is eaten or fed to the dogs.
Hunting narwhals and other whales is a tradition of the Inuit people. It is legal for the Inuit to hunt narwhals. The Inuit often eat the skin of the narwhal. They call the narwhal skin ´muktuk´. In the winter, muktuk is an important source of vitamin C in the traditional Inuit diet.
16. Do Narwhals Have Natural Enemies?
In addition to humans, narwhals are hunted by polar bears, Greenland sharks, walruses and orcas (killer whales).
Polar bears hunt mainly young narwhals. Orcas attack narwhals as a group, when the narwhals are in enclosed bays.
17. Are Narwhals an Endangered Species?
Narwhals are not endangered at the moment. On the IUCN Red List, they are now classified in “the least concern” (LC) category. This means the number of narwhals has grown. At some point, they were classified as “near threatened”.
In 2017, IUCN estimated the number of mature narwhals in the World to be 123,000.
Unfortunately, “the least concern” status does not mean narwhals would have nothing to worry about.
18. What Kind of Threats Do Narwhals Face?
Narwhal is likely the Arctic marine mammal that is most vulnerable to climate change.
In the winter, narwhals sometimes suffocate, if there are not enough breathing holes in the ice. Narwhals can also get trapped in openings in the ice.
However, there have been cases of narwhal entrapment in unusual places and seasons. The climate change melts the Arctic sea ice, and the ice conditions change unexpectedly. The ice rafts can move differently than before, causing narwhals to get trapped more often.
Human activities, such as oil and gas development, threaten the future of narwhals.
These human activities also cause noise pollution underwater. This can distract the communication of narwhals. The noise caused by vessels at the sea especially distracts narwhal mothers and babies. Due to the noise pollution, the narwhal mothers might not hear the cries of their calves.
Seismic airgun blasting in search of oil and gas is especially disastrous for narwhals. The loud sound caused by seismic cannons can travel up to 2,500 miles underwater.
Sounds many times louder than jet engines penetrate the deep sea every 10 seconds. This noise torture lasts for weeks at a time.
Imagine if someone was shooting torpedoes outside your house every 10 seconds for a couple of weeks! You could escape to a hotel or somewhere, though. Whales have nowhere to go.
Noise pollution of this level can cause narwhals and other whales permanent hearing damage. Narwhals need their hearing to survive, so if they go deaf, they are doomed.
19. Did Narwhals Inspire the Unicorn Myth?
In the Middle Ages, narwhal tusks, and cups made of narwhal tusk, were sold to the rich as unicorn horns. People truly believed the narwhal horns were real unicorn horns. Vikings made lots of gold with narwhal horns they traded.
The narwhal tusks and cups made of narwhal tusk were believed to have the same magical powers as unicorn horns. People believed these cups would purify water, and that drinking from them would neutralize poisons.
Queen Elizabeth I received a “unicorn horn”, which was a narwhal tusk, as a gift.
The Throne of Denmark is also made of “unicorn horn”, that is to say, made of narwhal tusk.
20. Are Narwhals Mentioned in Literature?
Herman Melville wrote a section on narwhals on his 1851 novel Moby Dick. Narwhal is mentioned several times on the zoological classification of whales on Moby Dick.
The Narwhal I have heard called the Tusked whale, the Horned whale, and the Unicorn whale. He is certainly a curious example of the Unicornism to be found in almost every kingdom of animated nature.
– Moby Dick, Melville, 1851
21. Are There Any Narwhal Movies?
In the 2003 Christmas movie Elf, there is a minor narwhal character, Mr. Narwhal.
22. Is Narwhal Mentioned in the Inuit Legends?
According to an Inuit legend, the narwhal tusk was born, when a woman was hunting a narwhal. The woman had a harpoon rope tied around her waist. The harpoon struck a large narwhal. The narwhal dragged the woman into the ocean, and she transformed into a narwhal.
The woman’s hair was tied in a twisted knot. Her hair became the narwhal’s spiraled tusk.
23. Are There Any Narwhal Songs?
” Narwhals, narwhals, swimming in the ocean. Causing a commotion. ‘Coz they are so awesome.” It is difficult to get this ear worm out of your head, once you hear it.
It has been more than 10 years since Mr. Weebl uploaded the animated music video “Narwhals” on YouTube. The video has been watched 56 million times. This song is short, catchy and completely nuts. But you can not miss the point; narwhals are totally awesome!
What Is a Narwhal? – Unicorn of the Sea
Narwhal is a toothed-whale known for its large tusk, which is actually a canine tooth. Mostly male narwhals have a tusk, so it is not necessary for narwhals’ survival. Narwhals do use their tusks as tools and for communication.
Narwhals live their whole lives in the Arctic. They are intelligent, social animals. Narwhals use sound for communication and echolocation.
While narwhals are not endangered at the moment, they are vulnerable to changes in their environment. The biggest threats to narwhals are humans and the climate change.
In the Middle Ages, narwhal tusks were sold as unicorn horns. Narwhals were a source of inspiration to the modern unicorn myth.
Narwhals are fascinating sea creatures that have inspired Inuit legends, literature and even popular culture.
Narwhal is the only animal in the World with a spiraled tooth. It is astonishing, how much this spiraled tooth resembles a unicorn horn.
Narwhal truly is the “unicorn of the sea”.
I hope these epic narwhal facts have answered the question “what is a narwhal?” for you. What do you think is the most astonishing narwhal fact? What do you like most about narwhals? Please let me know in the comment section below.